Episode 31: Gatecrashers

Shaak-Rom. Gatecrashers Sketch. --dr.no

Shaak-Rom. Gatecrashers Sketch. –dr.no

Crimson and her posse bounced along the sun beaten pavement, understanding why Shaak-Rom had gotten a discounted rate on a full-grav vehicle: all the rich people who tenanted the planet with their zero-g skiffs didn’t maintain the actual roads.

Andross sat in the driver’s seat, decked out in his red MiPie armor for the mission. As the transport pitched in another vicious pothole he glowered sideways at Crimson for the fifth time. “Sure we can’t use the hover-mode?”

Crimson let her human vertebrae catch her head like a pom pom on a spring, and kept her eyes on the vibrating horizon. “You paying for fuel?”

No answer.

On they bounced.

*

ETA to Grula’s safe house in under thirty minutes and Micron’s reconnaissance report finally chimed into Crimson’s mobile tactical computer. The clunky handheld device was nearly ten years old, and weighed a solid 2 kilos, but her robotic arm didn’t care. It was on her list of things to upgrade when she had spare cash. After this job it might be possible, but a strange, nostalgic corner of her Mindframe had an affinity for out of date technology. Besides, it still worked.

A 3-D map of the compound blipped up on her screen. She tipped it to Shaak-Rom in the seat beside her. “Brief time.”

The Trivven nodded, and they pushed off the seat and staggered against the pitching deck of the transport into the personnel compartment. Crimson looked at the nine crewmen, casually toting their masers, sitting with their backs to the outer wall of the transport, swathed in a charity shop collection of desert gear. Terrorists, she snorted.

Aloud she shouted over the rattling vehicle, “All right listen up! Micron’s given us the layout.” The transport heaved in another ditch, and Crimson’s sluggish leg failed to compensate. She teetered sideways and nearly tripped herself. Shaak-Rom caught her like a tipping cord of lumber. “Snake spit!” She shook him off and switched her tactical readout to her human hand, feeling its unmodern weight. Her cybernetic fist clamped over a passenger handrail. “Looks like there’s only five guards patrolling the fence. Heavily armed. We can crash the gate, and take the first two—Rom that’s you; don’t miss—but that leaves the others. Two to the south and one north.

“Mog Mog, Tager, Olper, Jumondo, you take the south. Gator, Krevvenar, Cort, north. Everyone else with me, for the main entrance. Micron is back-up if you get pinned down. We’re only hovering for the last mile to cover our sound. Be prepared to jump; we’re going in commando.”

A round of snickers from the bounty hunters made Crimson think she’d hit an innuendo. Internally she rolled her eyes. Boys.

Gator piped up “Stormin’ a fortress. This job just keeps gettin’ better!” A reptile in sun goggles with a stun gun was either incredibly cool or incredibly comical.

“We have no idea how many guns might be inside, but the mansion is a small luxury plot. Whoever takes down Grula gets a dip in the private pool.”

Everyone seemed to like that.

“Watch your heads. This guy outgunned the Pincho Police. Our big thing is surprise and speed. Hopefully a low profile means he doesn’t have a ton of people around.” She checked her readout. “Twenty-five minutes.” She turned to Skaak-Rom. “Better take shotgun.”

*

Shaak-Rom wedged open the front passenger door of the transport as soon as Andross revved it into hover mode. The flyboy human didn’t do anything cautious, as usual, and they didn’t even pause to change from mode to mode. The wheels were still spinning a 100 kpm when they lifted into the air. Shaak-Rom strapped himself to the frame of the transport’s cockpit, and leaned out. The whine of the hover tech blended with the roar of the wind. The Trivven shouted back to the driver seat, “Is this really quieter?”

Andross shrugged, a careless smile on his lips.

Shaak-Rom turned his face into the oncoming wind and surveyed the broken desert road. It crackled up between roughly chopped rows of gradlbock trees. There was a slight rise to the landscape which currently shielded them from their target, but it would be gone soon. The hot air slapped against his face and lifted his dreads behind him. He couldn’t taste any flavor of the oncoming threat. It gave him an idea.

Shouting back to Andross he said, “Is the wind from the south?”

Andross flipped a switch and looked briefly at the readout. “Yeah!”

“Can you hover out over the trees on the north side?”

Andross shrugged and grinned. “Yeah!”

He revved the hover blades again and with a lurch they wafted up over the prickly trees, sending additional dust and spiny twigs flying beneath their air-wake. At least they could let the wind carry some of their sound away.

In a moment they were cresting the hill. Shaak-Rom instinctively squinted behind his sun-goggles against the light and wind as he looked down of the complex surrounded by thorns. Glimmering steel fences enclosed a low, sleek, white house, with little green patches surrounding it, and a completely out-of-place pool.

Andross laughed, “Hey! Honey we’re home!” The gangster’s mini fortress approached rapidly. The cloud of branches and dust beneath them grew as Andross floored it.

They would be spotted now, regardless. “Now! Head for the gate!” Shaak-Rom shouted. He couldn’t hear Andross’ reply clearly, but he thought the MiPie was hooting some human anthem with a battle-theme.

There! He spotted to gate guards. They were black against the polished steel fence, standing like sentries on a castle wall. They were looking and pointing. Shaak-Rom looked through his large scope. It would be a completely skilless shot from the hovering platform…

Wamp! He released a blob of stun energy. The second guard danced passed his crosshairs. Wamp! Another blob wobbled through the air. Miraculously, one fell, the other he couldn’t see any more. The fence loomed up before them, Andross steering them back over the dusty road, towards the barred gate.

“Close the door!” Andross yelled.

Shaak-Rom ducked inside and slammed the door after him.

“Yeeeha!” screamed the MiPie. Proximity alarms whined milliseconds before the transport slammed into the bars. The craft heaved. Shaak-Rom wasn’t strapped down, and he crashed forward against the dashboard; his Gripon armor absorbed the impact. The grinding smash of metal and bits of glass as the transport’s front and the steel gate imprinted themselves on one another gave way only to the screech of tires as the hover fans failed and the transport crashed to the ground. They skidded to a halt.

“Let’s go, let’s go!” Shaak-Rom yelled, cutting himself free of his straps, trying to take a deep breath after the force of the dash against his midsection. The entire crew was in jeopardy until he had confirmed the second gate guard down.

He kicked open his complaining door, and dropped to the hot concrete. The crew was leaping out of the back as he sped around to cover them. One guard lay sprawled on the concrete where he’d fallen stunned. The other was missing. Shaak-Rom continued his circle around the transport, as the crew began to spread out. Crimson, Clidjitt, and Andross would be headed for the main entrance. He was supposed to be with them…

His eyes caught movement behind a row of carefully irrigated greenery. Rapid laser fire erupted from the spot; the blinding flashes instantly followed by the grating, spitting sound of high caliber emitters. Even with years of training there was no time for the former Duka master to dodge. The heat engulfed his chest and pain flared up his dreads. Through them he tasted fire, burning, and the peculiar, phantom-taste of the laser itself. He fell to the ground, dazed. The Gripon rock sizzled where the blasts had raked him. It made the concrete feel downright cool on his backside. He spun quickly to his left and depressed the trigger of his maser repeatedly into the bushes. Leaves puffed into the air under the repeated slaps of stun energy. A surprised cry garbled up from the opposite side of the bushes. Not waiting Shaak-Rom jumped up and strode through the matted shrubbery.

The missing guard—a tough looking Pincho in unfortunate black clothes—was crawling away from him, legs dragging limp behind him. His desperate scramble halted as he sensed Shaak-Rom’s approach and he spun, lifting his laser rifle.

Wamp! He was down.

Turning, Shaak-Rom high stepped his way back out of the garden, and ran towards Crimson. She and the others already flanked the front entrance. As never before, he thanked the Legacy Masters for the mysterious stone armor that absorbed the deadly laser energy.

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